They may not be handing out party hats and streamers to their shareholders at today’s annual general meeting on the banks of the Clyde but Graeme Murty and the players under his temporary command perhaps took a little of the heat off Rangers chairman Dave King and his fellow directors with a commanding victory over Aberdeen.
The simmering fury among the Ibrox support over the now five-week long process to find a permanent successor to the sacked Pedro Caixinha as manager was soothed by a performance and result badly needed after back to back defeats against Hamilton and Dundee.
A double from James Tavernier, either side of a Carlos Pena strike, earned interim boss Murty a fully merited win against an off-colour and largely abject Aberdeen side. It was the first away defeat Derek McInnes’ men have suffered in the Premiership since February and a miserable evening for the Aberdeen manager, who had been regarded as the leading contender for the Rangers vacancy, ended with just 10 players on the pitch after Ryan Christie’s late dismissal.
It is 17 years since Rangers last lost three successive league games and Murty’s determination to avoid that unwanted statistic being added to his CV saw him make unexpected and bold changes to his side, both tactically and in terms of personnel.
The recall of Pena, an often underwhelming presence during Caixinha’s chaotic tenure, was certainly a surprise but one which was vindicated by the Mexican’s role in a dynamic first half display by the home side.
Pena was deployed at the top of a midfield diamond which had Ross McCrorie at its base, the teenager offering added protection to a central defence comprising Danny Wilson and the fit-again Bruno Alves.
Rangers were by far the more energetic and purposeful side from the start and could have been ahead after just 30 seconds, Josh Windass narrowly failing to get on the end of a low James Tavernier cross.
They took full advantage of a curiously uncertain and tactically dishevelled display from Aberdeen. McInnes opted for a three-man central defence of Anthony O’Connor, Kari Arnason and Scott McKenna but it was Rangers who dominated midfield through ex-Don Ryan Jack and an inspired Jason Holt.
The former Hearts man was an incessant thorn in the visitors’ side and he earned the penalty which gave Rangers their seventh minute breakthrough. Holt was felled by a clumsy and rash challenge from Greg Tansey which left referee Andrew Dallas in no doubt about the award.
Tavernier made an emphatic job of putting it away, smashing the ball down the middle to beat Joe Lewis.
It gave Rangers a momentum they powerfully maintained, much to the gratification of a home support who have had little to enthuse over in recent weeks.
Tavernier was causing havoc down the right and he combined with Kenny Miller to create another chance for Windass who couldn’t connect cleanly enough with the ball at the near post.
Lewis was then forced into a smart save to keep out a dipping 22 yard shot from Pena who had shown neat close control to gather a Holt pass and create the opening.
There was little of note in response from Aberdeen until a fine through ball from Kenny McLean sent Stevie May racing into the penalty area where he was denied a shot at goal by Wes Foderingham’s alert dart from his line.
Rangers thought they had doubled their lead in the 25th minute when Windass latched onto McCrorie’s piercing pass and drove a low shot beyond Lewis but the celebrations were halted by a late offside decision.
But they did make it 2-0 two minutes later when Aberdeen were yet again sliced open down the right. Holt darted into space in the penalty area and slid the ball across the face of the six-yard box for Pena to guide a shot beyond Lewis’ right hand into the corner of the net.
It needed a fine save from Lewis to prevent Tavernier adding a third before half-time, the marauding right-back getting on the end of a slick move involving Jack and Pena.
Aberdeen should have halved the deficit in the 37th minute when Andrew Considine picked out May with a low cross from the right but the striker scuffed his shot wide at the near post.
McInnes decided he couldn’t wait until the interval to make a change. Tansey suffered the indignity of being withdrawn two minutes before the break, replaced by Gary Mackay-Steven. The former Celtic winger made an instant impact, racing into the Rangers penalty area ahead of Tavernier and going down after sending a shot just wide. Mackay-Steven was incensed when his claim for a penalty was dismissed, his show of dissent earning him a booking.
Aberdeen secured an improved share of possession in the second half, albeit without bringing any significant degree of penetration to their attacking efforts. Christie looked as likely as anyone to drag them back into the contest and managed a rare shot on target which was comfortably held by Wes Foderingham.
But any hopes they had of mounting a recovery were ended when Rangers made it 3-0 with 20 minutes remaining. Tavernier benefited from some sloppy officiating, the assistant referee failing to spot he was offside as he got ahead of the Aberdeen defence to turn in a Windass cross from close range.
On a night which saw eight yellow cards produced, Christie collected his second with six minutes remaining to complete Aberdeen’s misery.